I once had a friend who was a great mentor as well as a very successful business owner and philanthropist who would hand out two-dollar bills with those ten words on them. He built a multi-million dollar company on his conviction that he alone was the architect not only of his life, but also of his business. Hard work and belief in his ability were what he needed the most to be successful. He was 90 years old when we became fiends. On my first visit to his office in Manhattan, I was surprised that he didn’t have a fancy office; it was messy, piled high with stacks of papers, pictures of his friends and family and a lifetime of awards and plaques of recognition. His office was on a high floor of a modest building overlooking New York City. But he didn’t have the best view; in fact, his office didn’t really have a view at all. He saved that for a conference room for visitors to enjoy. I often think of the advice he shared with me, and I want to share some of his favorite tips with you.
1. Be generous. Really generous. Be outrageously generous with both your time and, most of all, your talent. Only you can decide how much of yourself there is to give. But give as much as you’ve got. It will come back into your life a thousand fold. He gave his advice, support and more than a few million dollars to the work and people he believed in.
2. Anything is possible. You can do anything you really want to do. The hardest part is figuring out exactly what that is. He had no patience for people who would not help themselves. He was a generous philanthropist and I never saw him give money to anyone who was just looking for a donation from him to solve his or her problems. He expected people to come to him with a solid business plan that included what the person doing the asking planned to do to help the situation.
3. Fail fast and fail cheap. If something isn’t working the way you planned, don’t keep putting money into it just because you don’t want to admit your idea isn’t working out.
4. You are never too young or too old to take a chance on a big idea. He was always coming up with new ideas for businesses and he was excellent at making them work. He started his own business when he was in his 20’s and he worked on creating new ventures into his 90’s.
5. Use the talent that you have, and use it every time you have the opportunity.
6. Be grateful, laugh often, and be a good listener.
7. Cry if something is heartbreaking.
8. “You hear everything you say” – meaning watch what you say about yourself. People often speak as though they don’t believe in themselves -- they won’t take a compliment without putting themselves down. Avoid this at all costs. Say thank you instead.
9. Life is one big story -- make yours one that people will talk about forever. He loved to tell stories and other people’s stories were important to him. After he was long gone, his stories about how he grew up, what made him happy, and situations that disappointed him still stick with me. The stories he loved to tell the most (aside from how much he loved his family) usually had to do with times that he would come up with a business idea that others would think was outrageous, but because he believed it was possible, his vision became a reality. “Life is so simple, people try to make it a complicated story.”
10. Don’t dream alone. He wasn’t a secretive kind of guy. He loved to think out loud. He taught me that the best ideas come from talking your plans over with someone you trust.
My friend Marty is gone now, but his words live on for me. Every time I am faced with a particularly difficult task, I know what Marty would say… those ten magic words he believed were the only directions we need for success… “If it is to be, it is up to me.”